Suffering? What's the Point?

Trinity Sunday/Father’s Day C’19

16 June 2019

Romans 5.1-5, John 16.12-15

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone +

 

O God, who cares and comforts us as a loving parent: Take all of our pain, and sorrow and transform them through suffering into an unexpected gift to further us on our path to wholeness. In the Name of the Father beyond us, through Jesus the Son who walks beside us, and through the Holy Spirit that lives within us. Amen. 

A woman accompanied her husband to the Doctor's office.

After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, "Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don't follow my instructions carefully, your husband will surely die.

"Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch make him a nutritious meal. For dinner prepare an especially nice meal for him.

"Don't burden him with chores. Don't discuss your problems with him; it will only make his stress worse. Do not nag him."

"If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, I think your husband will regain his health completely."

On the way home, the husband asked his wife, "What did the doctor say?"
His wife answered, "He said you've got about two weeks to live."

Stress and suffering are no laughing matter. Some secular gurus make millions selling products and books and videos that teach us how to outsmart and avoid suffering. Within the Christian faith there are some preachers and teachers who believe we can avoid suffering by following God’s commandments and faith principles, they teach that if we do everything right then God won’t let anything wrong happen to us. We won’t ever have to do without anything because God will give us practically everything we desire if we follow all of God’s commands. Money will never be a problem for those who follow God. But that is simply not true, the scripture says, “it rains both on the just and the unjust,”[1]  bad things do happen to good people. While suffering is inevitable for Christians just like everyone else, I do believe that we have something good to share when it comes to making the most of suffering.

To tell you the truth, when I saw on the Church calendar that today was going to be Trinity Sunday, and Father’s Day on the secular calendar, I wasn’t very excited. Trinity Sunday sermons are among one of the most dreaded by my colleagues, then throw Father’s Day into the mix and you have a real preaching conundrum; I got a little more excited when I read through the reading from Romans. Thanks to this passage I won’t be talking about the Trinity or Father’s Day.

I’ve picked a couple of other subjects that apply to everyone, salvation, and, sanctification. St. Paul explains to the Romans and to us that the matter of our salvation has been finally dealt with by the work Jesus: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”[2]  Salvation is a gift granted to us by the grace of God not by our works but by our faith in Christ’s work. With the destiny of our eternal souls sealed by the gift of salvation we can live in a state of inner peace. We don’t have to worry about God ever abandoning us. We are God’s children bought with the body and blood of Jesus. It’s not about our trying to do more good than evil so at the day of judgment our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Our position as God’s beloved children was settled not by our own merits but at Golgotha, the place of the skull, on the cross of Calvary. Be open enough to open up the gift and be at peace within yourselves. This is the starting place of our Christian journey that begins at baptism.  

The 14th century saint, Julian of Norwich described our journey of faith when she wrote: “Out of God we have all come, in God we are all enfolded and towards God we are all journeying.”[3] Our salvation has been secured but for the rest of our lives we will be in a process the church has traditionally called ‘sanctification” a word that describes our journeying back to God and of becoming more and more like Christ. Merriam-Webster defines sanctification as “the setting apart for a sacred purpose, to purify and to free from sin.” This is the process where suffering comes in.  St. Paul wrote to the Romans that besides boasting in boasting in the hope of sharing God’s glory we can actually boast about our suffering: “We also boast in our sufferings!”

Wow! How on earth would we ever boast about suffering, surely that is something we all like to forget about! Paul goes on to explain: “We also boast in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope!” Suffering is the first step up the golden staircase of faith followed by endurance, character leading to hope and finally to Love: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Through this process of refining and purifying we find our trails turn to gold.

Swiss psychiatrist and author, Elizbeth K├╝bler-Ross, once eloquently stated:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Thousands of years ago the Psalmist put it this way: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept your word…It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes.”[4]

I spoke with a friend in a different state this past week who had gone through a year of intense suffering. His spouse had battled depression and alcoholism for several years and it finally came to a head when he had to admit her to a psychiatric facility where she received treatment for six weeks. During her treatment he took care of their three small children and worked full-time. He said, “Carey, I can honestly say this is the hardest thing I have ever been through in my life.” But before I could say anything to try and comfort him, he added: “But I am grateful, I am a changed person, I’m not the same – in a good way!” Grateful and Changed! After listening to my friend, I would add along with St. Paul, hope and love.

He encountered something he couldn’t avoid, buy out, or pray away, and rather than grow bitter, cynical, and faithless he found the grace to climb the golden staircase of suffering, endurance, character, hope, and love! He was grateful for the gift of this experience.

Suffering can come to us in many forms, one of the hardest can be when we are betrayed by friends and loved ones, Priest, Poet and author John O’ Donohue wrote about something he called “the dark gift.”  After a person he had loved deeply hurt him he wrote:  

“Now a new kindness seems to have entered time”

“And I can see how that hurt has schooled my heart

In a compassion I would

Otherwise have never learned.”

 

“Somehow now I have begun to glimpse

the unexpected fruit your dark gift had planted,

and I thank you for your unknown work.”

 

 May we all stand in grace during our suffering and find along with my friend, gratitude rising in our hearts for the transformation suffering has brought to us. Amen!

 

Excerpt From: John O'Donohue. “To Bless the Space Between Us.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/to-bless-the-space-between-us/id42033857



[1] Matthew 5.25

[2] Romans 5.1-5

[3] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

[4] Psalm 119.67,71

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